Today’s guest post is by Lauren Bailey from Kirkus Reviews.
For every new venture, there is a learning curve. When it comes to self-publishing your book, however, that curve can be steep. After spending all that time and effort writing (and maybe even illustrating) your book, you want to make sure you do everything right—or at least as right as you can.
The shiny side of this coin is that a lot of authors have already made their mistakes, and many of them have been generous in sharing both their trials and successes. In other words, you are now in the very enviable position of being able to learn from other people’s experiences so that your own experience is positive.
1. Skimping on cover design
When it comes to book sales, first impressions aren’t just important—they are everything. Many authors opt to save money and create their own front covers. Unfortunately, unless you have a background in book publishing and serious design chops, going the DIY route could mean a sales disaster. There are many ways to invest in your book with your own hard-earned cash, but the best possible value for you is to hire an experienced book designer with a good reputation; check out design firms like Damonza. This is very much a “get what you pay for” scenario, but a polished, professional, and visually arresting book cover is worth its weight in gold (by which we mean “sales”).
For advice on cover design:
- 5 Ways a Book Cover Could Hurt Sales—and How to Fix It
- The Importance of Your Book Cover: Achieving the Right Fit
- 5 Steps to Great Cover Art
2. Not optimizing your book description
Every retailer gives you a page describing your book to potential readers. It’s another case of “make your first impressions count,” because nothing will send your readers running faster than a description that is boring, rambling, or full of self-congratulation. The best way to train yourself to write a good book description is to read as many of them in your book’s genre as you can; you’ll soon notice a common structure to the writing and what kind of plot points are highlighted. Plan to spend some time reading book jackets at your local library or bookstore or cozy up to your computer and cruise your favorite online book retailer.
For more advice on writing book descriptions:
- How to Improve Your Amazon Book Description and Metadata
- How Writers Can Optimize Their Book’s Description on Amazon
3. Insufficient research and market analysis
Forbes has suggested that between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books are self-published every year. That’s a lot. In order to get the maximum leverage for selling your book, you’ll want to figure out which books are selling best (and more importantly, why), what readers want to read right now, who your key demographic is and how to reach them, and if you have any competition.
For advice on conducting reader and market research:
- How Authors Can Find Their Ideal Reading Audience
- How to Find and Research Influencers to Help Promote Your Book
4. Slacking on (or entirely skipping) the editing process
Editors are hyperliterate—they’re adept at spotting typos, spelling mistakes, and grammar errors a mile away. They’re also going to be merciless about inconsistencies, plot holes, poor structure, clichés. Before you hire one, first edit the book yourself and try to get it as “clean” as possible. Then make sure you understand the different types of editing available: development/content editing, line editing and copyediting, and proofreading. It’s nearly impossible for one editor to accomplish all levels of editing in one pass, and manuscripts require different types of editing.
For advice and resources on editing—which is a complex topic!
- Should You Hire a Professional Editor?
- When You Shouldn’t Hire and Pay for a Professional Editor
- What Is a Developmental Editor and What Can You Expect?
- How to Find an Editor as a Self-Published Author
- 6 Ways to Vet Freelance Editors
- 5 Ways to Find the Right Freelance Book Editor
5. Bad timing
You’d be surprised at how many people try to publish their books at the wrong time. Books about elections after the Presidential election. Christmas books released on Christmas Day. Beachy reads in November. Look at your calendar and do a little digging online to find out when you should release your book. Beyond the obvious holidays and seasons, try to find a timely connection that might help position your book as particularly relevant. This especially comes in handy for pitching it to news media or planning a book tour: perhaps the release of your historical pirate novel could coincide with an upcoming anniversary celebration of a famous shipwreck discovery or your travelogue about painting across Europe could be ready to launch in time for Henri Matisse’s 150th birthday.
6. Not selecting a specific release date and sticking to it
A big part of marketing is setting up your audience’s expectations. And nothing will destroy that relationship faster than becoming unreliable. Make sure you’re being realistic about your publishing date, and don’t let your readers down.
7. Incorrectly formatting your book
Every bookseller has different technical requirements that need to be strictly observed. Check their guidelines to find out which file type they prefer you upload—the usual suspects include a Microsoft Word document, an Adobe PDF file, or a MOBI or EPUB file—and if they accept more than one, make sure you choose the one best suited to your manuscript. (Whether your book contains graphics is a big consideration here.) Beyond the file type itself, formatting your manuscript cleanly and simply ensures that readers enjoy a seamless experience, so be mindful of fundamentals like paragraph and section breaks and uniform line spacing.
8. No one read your book before you published it
Known as “beta readers,” these nice folks love books enough to read them and give you feedback, letting you know if your book is enjoyable and where it might need some work. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking friends and family members for honest critical feedback, but your best bet is to join a writers’ group. Writing communities are supportive, and the only cost to you for this service is returning the favor. No one likes criticism, but it’s a critical process for authors. Beta readers can be the difference between publishing a bad book (because you can’t always trust your mom or bestie) and a great book.
Note: A great online tool for organizing your beta readers (and maybe finding new ones) is Beta Books.
9. No marketing
If no one knows about your book, no one will buy it. As much as self-published authors dream about being “discovered,” it’s your responsibility to tell as many people about your book as possible—even before it’s published. These days, even traditional publishers are asking their authors to help out with marketing and social media. Engaging your readers and fans during the writing process invites them to be part of the journey, help you spread the word about your book, and buy it when it’s released.
For more advice on book marketing:
- Browse the archive of marketing how-to posts on this site.
- Take a look at Tim Grahl’s book marketing checklist.
- BookBub offers great ideas for book marketing.
- Here’s Jane’s roundup of best book marketing advice in 2017.
10. Selling through only one distributor
It may require some extra time on your part, but don’t restrict yourself to selling your book through one channel. It’s important to get your book out there to as many people as possible. Explore options IngramSpark and Amazon, which give you access to different types of retail outlets. And don’t forget the library market, which you can reach through ebook distributors like Smashwords and Draft2Digital. For in-depth advice on book distribution, here is Jane’s 101 article.
11. Charging the wrong price
Price your book too high, and no one will buy it. Price it too low, and you may increase your sales—but you won’t be selling your book at what it’s worth. Worse, readers may assume that because your book is cheap, it isn’t good. Research what other books in your genre and at your page count are selling for. And remember that while promotional discounts can be a valuable bump in your sales, customers are savvy enough to wait until the price drops another time.
For more advice:
- Written Word Media regularly discusses ebook pricing trends.
- IngramSpark offers advice that pertains to print pricing.
12. Not using your personal network
Your friends and family love you, and hopefully they want you to succeed. Don’t be afraid to ask them to mention your book on their social media channels. Mostly, remind them that the greatest support they can give is to buy your book for themselves—and perhaps as gifts for other people.
For more advice:
- Go Local: Marketing Books to Targeted Communities
- A Book Launch Plan for First-Time Authors Without an Online Presence
13. Quitting if your first book tanks
At some point in your life, someone probably intoned that annoying “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again” proverb. The truth is that when it comes to writing, persistence really is key. Every project and every book is an experience that will help you get to the next level. Sometimes it’s just a matter of timing. Sometimes it’s just a matter of luck. And sometimes, our first effort isn’t always our best. The trick is to keep going.
Remember that when it comes to publishing your book, you don’t want to rush through the process. It’s easier to fix mistakes before your book is out in the world, and only good things can come of taking your time and doing it right the first time.
You’ve already done the hardest part of the process—writing. This is a huge feat alone, and worthy of celebrating. Remember that not only will your next book be better but you will have all the experiences you’ve learned. You’ll already have a fan base to help and encourage you. Better still, every new book you publish will boost the sales of your older books, as readers want to explore other work you’ve written. And that is where success begins.
Your turn: What advice would you give to authors who are self-publishing for the first time? What mistakes have you learned from?
Lauren Bailey is a senior production editor at Kirkus Media, with eighteen years of editorial experience in book, magazine, and web publishing; retail, corporate, and nonprofit copywriting; and technical and medical writing and editing.